One of the things I hear a lot on the Primal Potential podcast and MFP (My Fitness Pal website) is the lament “I’m good all week and then I go off the rails on the weekends!” When we’re in our workday routine, it’s easy to stay in that routine, mainly because our days tend to be so tightly scheduled: getting up and getting the family out the door; getting to work; staying busy on the job; running errands on the way home, including any workouts; getting home and getting dinner done; taking care of the family and anything else that needs attention. The lack of free time actually works in our favor here: we don’t have the time or the opportunity to snack or overeat because we’re focused on checking the next task off our list.
The free time on the weekends (and also in the evenings- the #2 opportunity to go off the rails) is a real hurdle for everyone to overcome. (It’s one that I continue to deal with!) There are some big obstacles that present themselves mainly on weekends, and they all add up to making weekends tougher. Short of tightly scheduling their weekends (not good for quality of life), most people are at a loss to keep their eating & lack of activity in check.
Too much time for eating: this is pretty much the big one! We get to sleep in later and make a “real breakfast” which includes things like pancakes, waffles, french toast, etc. It’s the weekend so it’s a “special” breakfast. There’s time for pastries, maybe a special coffee like a mocha or a latte, and there’s time for seconds of everything. We’re at home more so it’s really easy to wander into the kitchen, and hey, there’s leftover cinnamon rolls! We open the fridge door and munch on more leftovers or grab a handful of nuts from the pantry. Most of the time, we aren’t hungry and we don’t even realize what we’re doing. We’re eating out of boredom and distraction. This is why so many of us try to fill our weekends or get out of the house as much as possible. While both of these can be good short-term solutions, it doesn’t work in the long run, especially if you have kids.
Making a few changes to your habits here can help. You can still have the “special” breakfast and make the pancakes, etc., for the family. You do not have to eat them! Depending on what your goals are, you can have one or two, whatever is an improvement for you! The family can have the cinnamon rolls- you can have eggs! Or if you have that kid who won’t eat a whole roll/ pancake, split one with him/ her instead of having a whole one yourself. You can always change your “special” breakfast to ‘make your own omelet’ bar. Create a fillings/ toppings bar where everyone gets to put what they in/ on their omelet.
These strategies also work if your “special” weekend meal is lunch or dinner. They like tacos, burgers, Chinese on the weekend? For a taco bar or burger bar, you can leave off the shell or the bun. You don’t have to eat the rice or fries even if the others do eat them. You can have salad, coleslaw, sweet potato fries (fewer carbs and good nutrition!) They can have the Chinese and again you can have veggies instead of rice! Egg foo yung is usually just eggs and veggies! Just choose a couple entrees that aren’t breaded and swimming in a sweet sauce.
Eating out with family and friends: this is one I deal with a lot! At least twice a month, I have lunch out with my dad. A lot of how you handle this depends on the place you choose to eat. The best bet actually is a buffet or a salad bar. I’m not telling you that you have to eat only salads, but these restaurants tend to offer more choices in whatever combinations you want. The veggies are usually raw or lightly cooked so there’s less breaded, fried or drowning-in-sauces options. I know there’s a lot of temptation with “all you can eat” and all kinds of not so healthy choices but it really is your best option for putting together a healthy plate. My dad’s favorite place to eat has a salad bar. It includes a “hot bar” with chicken wings, taco bar, soups and nachos. I start with a green salad then have some more prepared salads and I avoid the stuff that’s less than healthy. It’s been a process but making a habit of filling up on the crunchy veggies and lean proteins (not the chicken wings or chicken nuggets) has worked for me.
Of course, that’s the best scenario. What happens if you end up at a place without a salad bar or a buffet? Most places these days have healthier options so you can always choose off that section. If the menu is available online, you can take the opportunity to scope out your choices at your leisure- without a waiter staring at you with pen poised. You can also make substitutions. A lot of places offer grilled shrimp skewers on a bed of rice. I like the shrimp but not the rice: “can I have that with broccoli instead of the rice?” I do the same thing at my favorite Japanese restaurant. The bento box I like comes with salad and- again- rice: “can I have extra salad instead of the rice?” My friend likes a sandwich shop for lunch: “can I get that in a wrap?” It’s a matter of learning to tailor your food choices outside of your home, and it’s a skill you need to work on, unless you plan on only eating at home for the rest of your life. The key is not being afraid of making mistakes or trying something new. Don’t worry about being self-conscious. Most restaurants these days are used to people asking about the menu due to allergies to nuts, milk and gluten. Personally, I think people spend too much time worrying about what other people think. Your family and friends will be supportive and if the restaurant/ wait staff has a problem with it, I guess they don’t want your business in the future!
More time to lay around on the sofa: let’s pull up Netflix or Hulu and catch up on some tv! While a lot of us also use the time to play some sports or catch up on some gym time, we also like to relax. While there’s nothing wrong with activities like reading, watching the game or something else that’s not really active, it does mean there’s less activity while you’re reading. Even if you don’t overeat or you stick to your healthy choices, being less active can mean you’ve consumed more calories than your body needs. This is one issue that I struggle with pretty much every week. During the week, I can get in some exercise and activity, even if it’s just walking around the office, but on the weekends, there’s fewer opportunities for me, since a lot of my household chores are things like folding clothes, doing dishes and changing the linens. They don’t really count as being “active.”
This is where we have to be creative: some of my new strategies are shifting a lot of my errands to the weekends. Nothing like walking all around Target or Costco to get in some steps (not to mention crossing the mammoth parking lots on weekends!) There’s also the pup who loves a walk, so off we go to the campus (nice locale with lights and security). Of course, there’s always the old stand-by: going to the gym. At a bare minimum, I make a habit of walking around the house and yard as much as possible, even if it’s just getting up at each commercial break to get something from the bedroom or the kitchen or wherever. When I was living with my dad in college, we had a cat who loved to sleep on my dad’s lap in the evenings. He was huge (about 25 lbs) and once he curled up, he was immovable for the evening. My dad would complain about how heavy he was and how he never changed position: “why doesn’t he ever sleep on you?!” Because I got up every commercial break! Not that I was trying to be “active”- I got up to put the laundry in the dryer, to put the socks away, to clear the table, to load the dishwasher, etc. Every ten minutes or so, I was up and out of my chair while my dad stayed seated. Much to my pup’s dismay (he likes sitting on my lap too), it’s a habit I’ve picked up again!
These aren’t weekend only strategies; these are the same habits you use all week: making healthy choices in the office isn’t all that different from making healthy choices out at Chili’s. Only the location and your companions have changed. Getting up and moving around the office is the same as getting up and moving around the house. Choosing the crudité over the donuts in the break room is the same as choosing the eggs over the waffles at the breakfast table at home. It may take a bit more creativity but it’s worth the effort. Think of it in terms of reaching your goals: if you take five steps forward, why would you want to take two steps back each week? All the hard work you accomplished during the week: no to donuts, no to lattes/ mochas, yes to broccoli and no to the baked potato, yes to the workout and no to that extra episode of Walking Dead, but then on the weekends, it’s mochas, waffles, nachos and three hours of watching the game, pizza with the guys and a Harry Bosch binge, and who has time to hit the gym after a night of beer and shooters with the girls? Yeah, those are all fun and delicious, but they pretty much just wiped out the five days of focusing on getting fit and strong and healthy. You don’t have to live like a nun or a yogi 24-7-365 to reach your goals, but you do have to make some smart choices. If you want the pizza (and hey, who doesn’t love pizza?), maybe think about limiting the beer or skipping the waffles in the morning. Watch the game and have the nachos, but get to the gym or the pool later to balance it out. It’s like choosing the burger but not the fries; it takes a little practice, but you are worth the effort, and when your buddies get jealous that you look better in jeans and t shirt than they do, smile and offer them another beer!